The phrase originated in the humorous parody of British history text books, 1066 and All That (1930) by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, which speaks of rulers who were Good Kings but Bad Things, and has since become a mainstream idiom in the United Kingdom.
The phrase is familiar if not common in the United States. It achieved some visibility via the 1981 Harold Kushner book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, followed by the 1998 movie Very Bad Things. Since in these two sources the Bad Things include death, in the US the term has come to be a sort of ironic euphemism for a serious problem whose consequences would be lengthy and horrifying to describe.
An example from a military dictionary:
See also: Bad and Wrong
The original version of this article came from the Jargon file.